San Diego – As of late 2010, the Sanders/Jacobs Plaza de Panama Circulation and Parking Project was introduced to expand the Cabrillo Bridge running from Laurel Street into Balboa Park. The controversial plan was created to divert traffic by creating a path that brings cars around the Plaza de California, which rests in front of the existing façade of the Museum of Man, taking vehicles directly to a multi-level parking structure located behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion where a current parking lot resides. The proposal has been made in order to bring back the original intention of both the Plaza de California and Plaza de Panama, the two major gathering places created for pedestrian use before vehicles were so popular nearly a century ago. The expansion was set into place to be complete by the beginning of 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park’s installation.
As San Diego grew and the automobile became a way of life, the Cabrillo Bridge had become the main artery connecting Bankers Hill to Balboa Park and was the only way to get to the Park from the western side of the city. The path was made to allow for vehicle access through the Park. Then a parking lot was created in front of the San Diego Museum of Art in the Plaza de Panama and trolley stops were introduced in front of the Prado Restaurant. The road that connects the Cabrillo Bridge into Balboa Park is El Prado West, bringing visitors into the Plaza de Panama. It continues to the southern portion of the Park while running parallel to the Organ Pavilion and the International Cottages, eventually letting out back onto Park Blvd via Presidents Way.
Overall, this project was proposed to give Balboa Park a pedestrian only appeal, to divert traffic away from the major landmarks and to provide a larger parking area so more visitors have a place to leave their vehicles. This sounds like a great proposal, right? Not everyone agrees. SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organization) has been fighting this proposal since it was introduced a little over a year ago. Bruce Coons with SOHO is one of the main orchestrators working against this expansion. SOHO feels the plan will completely alter the look and historical feel of Balboa Park, saying “it will have a massively detrimental and irreversible impact on the Park’s historic integrity and character.” This expansion has made it to the top of SOHO’s Most Endangered List of 2011, which is a group of historical landmarks that are threatened of being changed to the point of altering the actual heritage of each site.
Just this past weekend, Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes granted the Petition for Writ of Mandate, which was filed by SOHO last summer, challenging the proposal from the City to create the new bridge expansion and paid parking structure. The ruling agreed with SOHO, saying it “constitutes an approval of the proposed project without prior environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) constitutes action that effectively forecloses due consideration of project alternatives or mitigation measures that are essential parts of CEQA review.” SOHO worked very hard to create this petition last year, which I signed myself, and all their hard work has paid off, at least for now. This was an essential step in the fight against this expansion, which does not take into consideration the Spanish colonial architecture and historical setting the Cabrillo Bridge provides for San Diego residents and visitors.
The point of this expansion is to prevent traffic from forming on the bridge and to provide more public parking. This makes sense, but there are not more than a few days a year where there are major delays in the area, these being Earth Day in April and December Nights each Holiday Season. When these events come, there are so many visitors that this proposal of adding more parking would not even make an impact for this plan cannot accommodate such a high volume of visitors. As for regular visiting hours, I tend to frequent Balboa Park often and I cannot think of a time outside of Tuesdays (where certain museums are free for the day) when there is a need for more parking. I tend to use Balboa Park as a template for some of my art pieces I create (one of which is attached to this article), as a great place to run and exercise with my wife, Nicole, and a peaceful place to walk and enjoy being outside. We take our dog, Charger, to the dog park at the start of the Cabrillo Bridge often and visit the museums when we get a chance. Throughout all this time spent there, I cannot recall when I thought creating a diversion for traffic and a massive parking structure was necessary. I fully support SOHO’s efforts in fighting this alteration to Balboa Park and I hope things continue to go that direction.
To find out more information about this proposed project as well as the efforts to stop it from happening, feel free to use these links:
Art by Brandon Hubbard